Gardening Magazine

Plant of the Week: Cladrastis Kentukea

By Davis Landscape Architecture @DavisLandArch

Cladrastis kentukea (20/10/2012, Kew Gardens, London)

Cladrastis kentukea (20/10/2012, Kew Gardens, London)

Position: Full sun

Flowering period: Early summer

Soil: Moist, well drained

Eventual Height: 15m

Eventual Spread: 12m

Hardiness: 4a – 8b

Family: Fabaceae

Cladrastis kentukea is a small/ medium sized deciduous tree with a rounded crown. Its mid green leaves are pinnate, up to 30cm long, with up to 11 leaflets. Its leaflets are ovate with entire margins, up to 13cm long and 7cm broad. Its leaves turn yellow/ orange before they fall in autumn. Its trunk has a tenancy to divide near the ground, these may split with age. Its bark is smooth and grey/ light brown. Its white fragrant flowers are produced in racemes which are up to 30cm long. Its fruit is a gray pod which is up to 8cm long, each containing up to 6 seeds, these persist on the tree through the winter months.

Cladrastis kentukea Autumn Leaf (20/10/2012, Kew Gardens, London)

Cladrastis kentukea Autumn Leaf (20/10/2012, Kew Gardens, London)

Cladrastis kentukea, commonly known as the Kentucky Yellow Wood, American Yellow Wood or Virgilla, is native to south east USA. In its native habitat it grows in limestone outcrops. Cladrastis kentukea is synonymous with Cladrastis lutea.

The etymological root of the binomial name Cladrastis is derived from the Greek klados meaning ‘branch’ and eukataktos meaning ‘fragile’, in reference to its brittle wood. Kentukea is derived from the Latin meaning ‘from Kentucky’.

The landscape architect may find Cladrastis kentukea useful as an attractive small specimen tree with attractive fragrant flowers and autumn leaf color. It is tolerant of urban pollution.

Cladrastis kentukea Bark (20/10/2012, Kew Gardens, London)

Cladrastis kentukea Bark (20/10/2012, Kew Gardens, London)

Ecologically, Cladrastis kentukea flowers are attractive to pollinating insects, including bees.

Cladrastis kentukea prefers moist, fertile, well-drained soils. It tolerates most pH of soil.

Cladrastis kentukea requires little maintenance. Pruning should be carried out during the summer months to minimise excessive bleeding.

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